The Daily Briefing Friday, April 21, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

In the old days, the NFL’s Val Pinchbeck laboriously and manually slotted out each NFL game on a big board in a conference room while hand-crafting a schedule.  Now, a team of NFL employees waits for a computer to spit out a palatable option.  They grew tired of waiting with version 52,129 reports Peter King:

 

This is the fourth straight year I’ve done a story on the making of the NFL schedule. Each year, I speak to the four-person team of schedule-makers, led by NFL broadcasting and schedule czar Howard Katz, after the hay is in the barn . . . sometime late in the day after the schedule is finalized.

 

But this year, I feared the jig was up. At 12:22 a.m. on Monday, Katz emailed to say there was a long way to go before the schedule would be finished—and he wasn’t feeling very confident. On Monday afternoon, the scheduling team presented to Roger Goodell one iteration of the tens of thousands spewed from nearly 400 computers that looked quite good; Goodell thought the schedule was good enough to play, but also thought three teams’ slates had minor flaws, and that the Los Angeles TV schedule had holes. Back to work. On Tuesday at 11:05 p.m., a few hours after returning from the funeral for Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, Katz sounded even more pessimistic about an optimal schedule getting done in time for the projected 8 p.m. ET Thursday release.

 

But a breakthrough happened while the schedule-makers slept. At 2:21 a.m. on Wednesday, schedule number 52,129 shot out of a computer and fixed the four problems Katz & Co. hadn’t been able to get over—making three team schedules less arduous, and giving the Los Angeles market better doubleheader games.

 

“Making the schedule is always a balance,” says senior director of broadcasting Mike North, who has worked on the annual three-month schedule marathon for 19 years. “In this case, how much of what we liked about the schedule could be kept intact by addressing teams X, Y and Z, plus the TV games with the two L.A. teams now? In this case, we were able to fix the problems without creating others.”

 

The winning schedule, incredibly, was spit out of a computer in western Europe. But more about that later.

 

For now, as I examined the work of the schedule-makers, five headlines stand out:

 

The Raiders are back. Oakland had one prime-time game in 2015, and two in 2016. This year, the Raiders have the NFL max of five prime-time games, plus four doubleheader games that will be nationally televised. The league will be in a TV mess if the Raiders are not the emerging star team they appeared to be at the end of 2016. “Most years,” said North, “you count on seeing Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and New England in prime time a lot. This year, you’ll get five Raiders games and four doubleheader games, meaning more than half their games will be on national TV. It’s been a long time since that’s happened—maybe a generation.”

 

Odd slate for the Pats. A predictable opener, versus Kansas City on Thursday night, Sept. 7, to open the season. (If you wonder why no Atlanta there, it’s simple: The Falcons wanted to open their new stadium in Week 2 at home, and the combination of the new venue plus being the defending NFC champs meant that would be a huge Week 2 game. Thus, Green Bay at Atlanta on Sunday night in Week 2 . . . the league also wouldn’t put the Falcons in the league’s marquee game in Week 1 and 2.) But after New England’s Week 9 bye, the Pats play five of six on the road, including back-to-back games in altitude, at Denver and against the Raiders in Mexico City, in Weeks 10 and 11.

 

Lots of coast-to-coast trips made the schedule harder to formulate. The NFC East plays the NFC West and AFC West this year. The AFC West plays the AFC East and NFC East this year. The Chargers have two trips to the Meadowlands. Washington has two trips to Los Angeles. The Raiders have five games in the Eastern Time Zone. The Raiders will play east in Week 1 (Tennessee), Week 3 (Washington), Week 8 (Buffalo), Week 9 (Miami—Oakland requested one back-to-back eastern swing) and Week 16 (Philadelphia), on Christmas night.

 

No bye weeks until Week 5. Might seem like a minor thing, but since the NFL went to 16 games played on 17 weekends, the byes have regularly started in Week 4. Teams prefer to have their bye closer to the middle of the season. This year, no team has a bye in the first four weeks.

No flex scheduling in Week 16. NBC has Minnesota-Green Bay on Saturday, Dec. 23, then Raiders-Eagles on Christmas night, a Monday. Those games are set in stone, so teams (and fans) won’t have to wonder 13 days before the game if it might be moved to a different time.

 

* * *

One of the strangest things about the 2017 NFL schedule: all four California teams will be playing in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. The Raiders are at the L.A. Chargers, and the 49ers are at the L.A. Rams. Both games kick off at 4:25 p.m. ET. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, it’s just odd.

 

In the past, things like a Papal trip to Philadelphia, a huge rugby game in Chicago, and various concert tours have derailed the work of Katz and his team, which includes North and two new members: director of broadcasting Blake Jones and broadcast manager Charlotte Carey. There were not many unique events this year to derail the schedule. The World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo put the Bills on the road in Week 16 and 17 (the Bills were fine with it), while marathons in Detroit and Chicago made the Lions and Bears unable to play at home, respectively, on Oct. 8 and Oct. 15. “The start/finish lines in those races are in the parking lots of those two stadiums,” North said. “If we could avoid it, we needed to.”

 

Every team’s going to have some anger about some parts of its schedule, to be sure. “But we’re throwing away schedules, lots of them, we would have used 10 years ago,” said Katz. “One weekend, the computer spit out 297 schedules we considered playable. We threw them all in the garbage because they had flaws we weren’t willing to accept. But they would have been acceptable before.”

 

Some of the reasons seem quirky to most people, but they aren’t that way locally. The Bengals had been in a tizzy because they had been assigned to open seven straight seasons on the road. This year, their 50th season, they strongly requested a home game in Week 1. Thus, they’ll open the season the same way they closed 2016: at home, against the Ravens.

 

Three of the teams playing London in Weeks 3 and 4—Baltimore, Jacksonville and Miami—asked the league to avoid giving them byes the following week. One team in London, New Orleans in Week 4, wanted to follow the overseas game with a bye. All four teams got their wish.

“One of the issues people wouldn’t expect,” said Katz, “is that we’ve got 10 teams playing international games this year—eight teams in London, two in Mexico City. Most of those teams have a request where they want to be before that game, or after that game. So that’s something else to add.” The Rams, for instance, wanted to play in Eastern Time the week before playing in London versus Arizona on Oct. 22 . . . and so the league put the L.A. Rams in Jacksonville on Oct. 15. The Rams will practice in Florida for a couple of days before going to London.

* * *

When Goodell initially saw the first iteration of the schedule the team found acceptable, Katz said the commissioner was “generally complimentary.” But one of the problems Goodell, and the team, couldn’t get over was that one NFL club (Katz wouldn’t say which one) had a three-game road trip, which included a trip to the opposite coast, followed by another road game. They would have played the schedule. They didn’t want to play the schedule.

 

Katz calls North “our computer-whisperer.” When the schedule team had problems with the three teams and the Los Angeles TV schedule, North refined what he was asking the computer on Tuesday night. The NFL uses two primary software partners, Optimal Planning Solutions of Vernon, British Columbia, and Gurabi Optimization of Boston. As North explained, the available servers used by Optimal or Gurabi in the cloud could be in Europe, Asia or some American city. And when he checked the time stamp Wednesday morning of schedule possibility 52,129, it was five hours ahead of New York—meaning on some computer in western Europe.

 

“It’s a remarkable concept,” North said, “compared to actually having the machines physically in the office. It wasn’t that long ago that we only had a dozen we used. Now I wish we had another 1,000.”

 

And it wasn’t that long before that when the NFL had a couple of humans, led by longtime director of broadcasting Val Pinchbeck, make the schedule by hand—and by trial-and-error. There’s a lot to envy about the old days in the NFL, but making the schedule is not one of them.

 

We’ll have out annual Schedule-palooza with in depth analysis of all 32 schedules on Monday.

 

More from Judy Bautista at NFL.com:

 

Marathons in Detroit and Chicago, where the start and finish lines are in the parking lots of the football stadiums, had to be factored in, as did NASCAR races in Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix and Kansas City. And three stadiums share with Major League Soccer teams — another element to plan around. The most unusual situation arises in California, where the Rams (the Coliseum at USC) and Chargers (the StubHub Center at Cal State-Dominguez Hills) play home games on college campuses, making Monday night and Thursday night games at home a no-no when classes are in session.

 

There almost certainly will be an extra dose of attention paid to this lineup, after the ratings dip that accompanied the presidential election last year. The politicking for marquee games among network executives is nothing new, but ESPN executive Burke Magnus said at the CAA World Congress of Sports this week that ESPN has been as engaged with the schedule makers as it has ever been, in hopes of swaying the choices for “Monday Night Football.”

 

There are only so many Cowboys, Patriots, Steelers, Giants and Packers games to go around, though. In the meantime, the league was able to accommodate two unusual requests:

 

1) The Bengals are celebrating their 50th anniversary season this year. To kick off the festivities, they get to open at home against division-rival Baltimore and they host the first “Thursday Night Football” game of the season against Houston.

 

2) It was brought to the attention of the scheduling department — perhaps pointedly — that of the last 13 times the Ravens have appeared on “Monday Night Football” in the last 10 years, 12 of those games were on the road. Voila! On Nov. 27, the Ravens will host the Texans on Monday night.

 

“Everybody is going to have to take a little bit of pain in the schedule,” North said. “Hopefully no team takes too much.”

– – –

One of the reasons this schedule was the winner was there is no Week 4 bye. That’s the good news. The bad: Eight teams will have three-game road trips, if you include the Dolphins, who play twice on the road before hosting what is technically a home game in London. There were only two such road trips in last season’s schedule, which is part of what made that one so attractive. Few things make teams more irate than the extended road trips. So, what happened? The ever-increasing complexity of the schedule is to blame.

 

“All these stadium things, then you layer in international travel, four London games and a Mexico game, that’s 10 teams playing international games, not just where are they the week of the international game, but where are they the week before and week after. We don’t look at the total number of three-game road trips. Technically, you could have 20 three-game road trips, as long as no team has more than one and each of the 20 was justifiable.”

 

Thankfully, there aren’t 20. But bon voyage to the Vikings, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers, Patriots, Bengals, Broncos and Dolphins.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Breaking his silence, QB ELI MANNING mounts an aggressive defense against the allegations that he may have provided fraudulent “game-worn” memorabilia.  Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv:

 

An angry and hurt Eli Manning defended himself against allegations that he participated in a phony memorabilia scheme, insisting “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to hide.”

 

Speaking out on the subject for the first time — and letting his emotions show for one of the few times in his 13-year NFL career — Manning opened up his press conference on Thursday morning by proclaiming his innocence. He said that emails that purportedly show him participating in the scheme — filed in Bergen County Superior Court as part of a civil racketeering suit against him, the Giants and their equipment managers — were “taken out of context.”

 

He said he couldn’t go into details, except to say that future court filings will reveal the truth.

 

“I will say that I’ve never done what I’ve been accused of doing,” Manning said. “I have no reason, nor have I ever had any reason to do anything of that nature. I’ve done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to hide. And I know that when this is all done, everybody will see the same thing.”

 

Manning said that he is “definitely” angry at the way he’s been portrayed in the media, where his integrity has been questioned on TV and in newspapers, and even on radio by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

 

“It’s one thing to write about football or my play,” Manning said. “When you’re attacking my integrity it definitely makes me angry.

 

“I think my track record of how I’ve handled myself since I’ve been here in New York since 2004 speaks for itself. I’ve tried to do everything with class and be a standup citizen. That’s what I have done.”

 

Manning, the Giants, equipment manager Joe Skiba and Steiner Sports have been accused by three memorabilia collectors of selling fake “game-worn” equipment and billing it as authentic. According to the New York Post, emails from Manning were filed as part of the lawsuit in which he requests “2 helmets that can pass as game used” from Skiba.

 

Manning’s name has been caught up in this suit since it was first filed in 2014, so it’s not new to him. But the release of his email turned up the heat in the media, which is what prompted him to speak out.

 

“I’ve been dealing with it a long time,” Manning said. “But just more angry than anything, it’s having to deal with it and knowing that I’ve done nothing wrong and still being attacked.”

 

Manning insisted that he believes “It will all work out. I think when it all does I’ll be cleared of this and everybody will see that I’ve done nothing wrong.”

 

In the meantime, he’s just a little surprised at the public rush to judgement, considering his career has been scandal-free.

 

“For sure. Definitely,” Manning said. “I’ve done everything the right way. I’ve been a standup citizen. Obviously someone starts something up and everybody turns against you very quickly, it hurts a little bit.”

– – –

C WESTON RICHBURG is a tough guy as facts about his endurance come to light.  Justin Kratz at NJ.com:

 

While his quarterback was discussing his legal woes a few feet away, Giants center Weston Richburg dropped some surprising news of his own.

 

Richburg revealed Thursday during a break from the team’s offseason workouts that he played the entire 2016 season with several torn tendons in his snapping hand. He first suffered the injury in the Giants’ second preseason game against the Bills in August, but gutted through the rest of the preseason, the entire regular season and the Giants’ playoff loss to the Packers before having offseason surgery.

 

Richburg said he is now 100 percent, and will be a full participant in the offseason program as he prepares for the final year of his rookie deal. Richburg, the Giants’ second-round pick out of Colorado State in 2014, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next spring.

 

“I’m not even thinking about the contract, I’m just thinking about last year, and how things went,” the Giants’ center said Thursday to a small group of reporters while Eli Manning was fielding questions about the memorabilia fraud allegations made against him in a lawsuit.

 

“I’m a much better player than I was last year. That’ll be motivation for me to go into this year and be better.”

 

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

GM John Schneider says in an interview that the trade market for CB RICHARD SHERMAN has cooled.  The DB would guess that it is because no one wants to cough up a first round pick for an aging cornerback with a big contract and a big mouth.  Bob Condetta in the Seattle Times:

 

The Seahawks will continue to listen to trade offers for star cornerback Richard Sherman, general manager John Schneider said during an interview on ESPN 710 Seattle Thursday night.

 

But Schneider reiterated what he and coach Pete Carroll have each said in recent weeks — that a trade is unlikely.

 

Schneider spoke briefly on the topic in an interview that focused largely on his annual fundraiser for Ben’s Fund, a charity that helps families with autistic children. Schneider’s son, Ben, has autism.

 

Schneider repeated much of what he has said in other interviews, that the team is “constantly communicating’’ with Sherman about any trade offers that might come

 

“Everything is the same,’’ Schneider said.

 

But he also again said he expects that Sherman will likely remain with the Seahawks.

 

“Right now, I don’t think the odds are very good (of a trade),’’ Schneider said. “But if someone comes cruising along and something happens and we do something, it happens.’’

 

As for why the team would consider trading Sherman, Schneider said “the only reasons we would do it is to create some cap room and trying to become a younger football team. But that’s just one option.’’

 

Sherman, who turned 29 last month, has salary cap hits of $13.6 million and $13.2 million in 2017 and 2018 in what are the final two years of his contract with the Seahawks.

 

Schneider’s reference to the cap could mean that the Seahawks would be more likely to want a package of draft picks — such as the widely-rumored asking price of a first- and third- or fourth-rounder — as opposed to wanting a veteran in return.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Kevin Patra on the one-book reading list of Colts GM Chris Ballard:

 

Chris Ballard understands tackling the job of rebuilding the Indianapolis Colts will take time, patience and perhaps a different way of thinking. The task has led him, like many general managers and coaches, to seek insight and inspiration by reading how others have found success managing sports teams.

 

Ballard is currently engrossed in reading “The Cubs Way,” a book about Theo Epstein — the greatest team-builder of the 21st century, who helped two MLB teams end generation-long championship droughts. Ballard is taking notes on how Epstein turned around a bumbling Chicago Cubs team to find clues on how to build the Colts’ roster.

 

“Theo — baseball was getting flat in terms of the analytics and the edge that they were getting from the numbers — so he kind of took a different approach with character,” Ballard said, via ESPN’s Mike Wells. “We want high-character guys that love football, that will hold each other accountable, that will be good teammates. It stuck out like a beacon light.

 

“Look at the teams that win in this league. It’s culture. Culture wins. It absolutely wins. Football is the greatest team sport. It really is because guys want to have individual success, but they can’t have individual success without their teammates. They can’t do it. Not in this sport. It’s too hard.”

 

Those of you screaming at your screen ‘How is what Chris Ballard doing at all like Theo Epstein?’ please #calmdown. No one is saying it’s an apples-to-apples comparison. Coaches, GMs, CEOs, executives, players, etc. all glean tidbits from random sources to employ in their own jobs. It’s one reason Patriots coach Bill Belichick owns a vast catalogue of books. And it’s little different than a player being motivated to return from injury after receiving a mean tweet from a Twitter egg. Motivation and information come from all walks of life.

 

Ballard understands one or two splashy moves won’t turn the Colts from a franchise over-reliant on spectacular play from its quarterback into a consistent, solid team on both sides of the ball.

 

“It takes time to build a team,” Ballard said. “… Do we have work in front of us? Yes, we do. But it takes time. And the biggest thing that I want to make sure that we’re emphasizing is that competition and they have to earn it. It doesn’t matter where you come from and how we build it or where, from first-round pick to undrafted free agent to street free agent, guy that was cut at the 53-[man roster], future signing.”

 

Ballard has cleaned out some of the aging remnants of the last regime and signed quality depth and competition at good market value. The additions of Johnathan Hankins, Jabaal Sheard, Margus Hunt, Barkevious Mingo, Al Woods and Sean Spence immediately upgrade one of the worst defensive fronts in football.

 

Next week’s draft (April 27-29 in Philadelphia) will be Ballard’s latest chance to put his stamp on an offseason overhaul that could thrust the Colts back into the playoffs after back-to-back disappointing seasons.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE BAD DRAFT OF 2013

Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com looks at the almost comically bad draft of 2013.  She goes through all the picks 1-32 and we’ll have selected highlights below.  The whole thing is here:

 

The NFL draft is an annual exercise in optimism, but hindsight is always part of the equation—it usually takes a few years to see how much of it was warranted. But going into the 2013 draft, the talent pool seemed to be half-empty rather than half-full. Comparing it to other years, Broncos GM John Elway presciently said, “Not nearly as many impact guys.” Another GM thought to himself, This board is probably a mess for everybody. It was the year between Andrew Luck and Jadeveon Clowney, a year when linemen were among the best and worst picks; when the bottom half of the first round would yield more Pro Bowlers than the top half; when a top pick who simply became a regular starter would be viewed as a “great” success. Six of the first 10 picks from the 2013 draft have already moved on to other teams—a stunning number. “I look back at that draft,” says one veteran talent evaluator, “as one of the most confounding drafts for us.” In the spirit of 32 picks, here are 32 takeaways from one of the strangest drafts in NFL history—and a few lessons that teams should take into their draft rooms next week.

 

1

The Chiefs had the first overall pick, but it wasn’t a golden asset. New general manager John Dorsey fielded only three or four calls from other teams the day before the draft—and none of the trade offers were very serious. There was no Andrew Luck to select at No. 1. Had there been, the Chiefs’ plan may have been very different. Instead, they traded with the 49ers for veteran quarterback Alex Smith in February, and in March they settled on drafting an offensive tackle as a building block for new coach Andy Reid. They took Eric Fisher, valuing his athleticism and upside even though he hadn’t faced top-tier competition at Central Michigan. “It was one of those things where, if you understood to have a degree of patience as an organization, that he would begin to hit his mark right around Year 3,” Dorsey says. Fisher has never made a Pro Bowl, but he’s started more games than any other top-10 pick from that year’s draft. Last year the left tackle signed a four-year, $48 million extension with Kansas City.

 

2

For the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, offensive tackles were drafted first and second overall. The Jaguars selected Texas A&M lineman Luke Joeckel with the second pick. To put an absolute value on those selections, however, consider this: One AFC personnel executive said his team’s grades on all three of last year’s top offensive tackles—Ronnie Stanley (No. 6 to Baltimore), Jack Conklin (No. 8 to Tennessee) and Laremy Tunsil (No. 13 to Miami)—were well above Fisher and Joeckel’s marks. Jacksonville didn’t pick up Joeckel’s fifth-year option. In March he signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Seahawks to play left guard.

 

3

Nick Aliotti, the former defensive coordinator at Oregon, remembers NFL teams streaming through the Ducks’ headquarters in the months leading up to the draft. Dion Jordan was projected to be a first-round pick, and talent evaluators asked about everything—including, point-blank, if drugs were a problem. “You feel bad, like, maybe you gave false information, even though I didn’t, to the teams that were considering drafting him, because I never saw that coming,” Aliotti says. “I never saw the drug thing being a problem, I really didn’t. We are not with him 24/7, but we are with him quite a bit, so I thought I really knew the kid.”

 

There are football reasons why Jordan wasn’t a good fit as the Dolphins’ pick at No. 3—he was a 3-4 outside linebacker drafted to be a 4-3 defensive end—but it’s his three suspensions for violating NFL substance abuse policies that have derailed his career. Aliotti says he and the Oregon staff signed off on Jordan without reservation. He even went so far as to vouch for him when a friend, then-Dolphins trainer Kevin O’Neill, called to inquire about Jordan. “You feel bad you didn’t know,” Aliotti says, “but you feel worse for the young man.” The Dolphins sacrificed a second-round pick to move up nine spots and leapfrog Chip Kelly’s Eagles. Jordan, who hasn’t played a down since 2014, was cut by the Dolphins this spring and signed a low-risk deal with the Seahawks.

 

4

Had Dion Jordan been on the board at No. 4, it would have been hard for Chip Kelly to pass on his former player. Instead, the Eagles took Lane Johnson, who played quarterback, tight end and defensive end in the college ranks before moving to the offensive line during his last two years at Oklahoma. He was drafted on upside—and the Eagles hit that projection. Johnson earned a six-year extension immediately following his third season. But he’s also missed his own share of time with suspensions—a four-game ban in 2014 and a 10-game ban last season for performance-enhancing drugs.

 

5

The top half of the 2013 first round has produced exactly two Pro Bowl bids in four seasons: defensive end Ziggy Ansah (No. 5 to Detroit) in 2015, and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (No. 13 to the Jets) in 2014. Among the top 16 picks, Ansah has earned the lone All-Pro nomination, a second-team nod in 2015. The crazy part is that Ansah might have been the biggest risk among the first 10 picks. Though he had the size (he’s 6’5″, 271 pounds, and has 35 1/8″ wingspan), he arrived at BYU in 2008 from Ghana having had no exposure to football. He showed up to spring practice in 2010 hoping to walk onto the team. When he was drafted, he had started just nine games in his life.

 

6

An undersized edge rusher who struggled to set a physical edge in the run game, Barkevious Mingo was taken sixth overall by the Browns . . . but he’s already playing for his third team. The Patriots traded for him last summer; he played 47 snaps on defense for New England in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference, and this spring he signed a one-year deal with the Colts. Three edge rushers were picked in the top six, and only one—Ansah—has worked out. A lesson? Says Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network: “All three of these guys, you were trying to project upside. But if you’ve gotta take a chance on somebody, let’s make sure you are clean off the field, check out medically and have the prerequisite height, weight, etc.”

 

7

One NFL talent evaluator still regards Jonathan Cooper as one of the more perplexing busts. He was seen as a can’t-miss prospect out of North Carolina, an elite guard who graded high across the board. That’s why you continue to see him get chances—he’s on his fourth team now (Dallas), because clubs want to get another look at a guy with high ability. Cooper broke his fibula in his first training camp; he has said that he’s struggled with the mental challenges of rebounding from a season-ending injury, something he’s never seemed able to outrun. New England had traded for Cooper last spring, but he suffered a foot injury just a few days into training camp. The Patriots cut him in October, and he landed in Cleveland, where he saw limited action before being cut in late December.

 

8

“I probably had five GMs tell me prior to that draft, you can’t build a team based on exceptions,” says Mike Mayock. That’s an old Bill Parcells-ism. If you keep making exceptions, the next thing you know, you’ll have a team full of them. Enter Tavon Austin, a 5’8″, 174-pound receiver from West Virginia who caught fire that year as an explosive athlete who tested well at the combine. The Rams traded up to select Austin eighth overall, imagining him in myriad roles—receiver, running back, return man—but he hasn’t thrived in any. He signed a four-year extension last summer but has just one 100-yard receiving game on his résumé. “Whether medical, character or size, because this draft was perceived to be so bad,” Mayock says, “I think some teams talked themselves into saying we are going to reach for the talent, and they got burned.”

 

9

Dee Milliner, the ninth pick, is already out of football. At  Alabama, Milliner had a championship pedigree the Jets liked—but they ultimately reached for a young cornerback after trading Darrelle Revis to the Buccaneers four days before the draft. Milliner had been taken off at least one team’s draft board because of an injury history that included five surgeries before he got to the NFL, furthering wariness among some evaluators about Alabama players being beat up before reaching the pros. What the Jets didn’t see—and credit this to pre-draft preparation by either his college program or his agent—was that Milliner was behind when it came to the mental side of the game. He played a lot of man-to-man coverage in college, knowing only his assignment and not how to study or anticipate what the opposing offense was doing. He started to make strides at the end of his rookie season, thanks to extra study sessions with veteran teammates and coaches, but he tore his right Achilles in his second season. He was let go by the Jets during final cuts last year, and the only sniff he’s gotten since was a workout with the Panthers in November.

 

10

Just four years later, only four of the top 10 picks in the 2013 draft are still with the team that selected them. Let’s put that in context: From the 2012 draft, seven of the top 10 players were still with their teams after four years; that number was eight for the 2011 draft. For that reason, revisiting the 2013 draft isn’t a popular exercise for executives around the league. One GM whose team missed in the top 10 declined to be interviewed through a team spokesman, who explained, “Given the way our 2013 class has panned out, he’s not a huge fan of the subject.” Chance Warmack, a guard from Alabama, was picked 10th by Tennessee; a middling starter his first three seasons, he spent most of last year on IR with a hand injury and signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March.

 

From now on, the comments are edited.

 

11

After Warmack, the Chargers took D.J. Fluker, a tackle from Alabama, 11th, meaning six of the first 11 picks were offensive linemen. “I think that was a direct reflection of people’s concern with a lot of these top-end players,” Mike Mayock says. “Six of 11 teams said, Hey, we are going to go with an offensive lineman, because that’s a lot safer. And the irony is, we are starting to learn that with college spread offenses, these offensive linemen are nowhere near as safe as they used to be.”

 

12

The weirdness of this draft: Pick No. 12 was cornerback D.J. Hayden, who nearly died after a collision on the football field… Hayden started 25 games for the Raiders, but they didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. In March, he signed a one-year contract with Detroit.

 

13

Mark Dominik, the general manager of the Buccaneers, traded away the No. 13 pick the Sunday before the draft. “I don’t want to sound like I’m saying this in hindsight, because you can debate whether the trade for Darrelle Revis was a good trade or not,” Dominik says. “But a big part of the reason why I felt like a first-round pick was worthy of Darrelle Revis was that I didn’t like the way the class looked that year, especially at the top of the draft.”

 

14

The Jets turned the Buccaneers’ pick into one of the best selections of the first round. Sheldon Richardson was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, and a Pro Bowler in his second season.

…In a re-draft, Richardson would likely go in the top five.

 

15

There are 32 picks in the first round—in years without a Spygate or a Delfategate—but there are never 32 first-round talents. Evaluators grade players on both an absolute and relative scale, so they know when a class is down on talent. Mark Dominik, the former Bucs GM, recalls there being maybe 14 true first-round talents in 2013. In an average year, he says, there are about 18. The good news for next week’s draft? “In a year like this, there are maybe 23,” says Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN. “If this ’17 class had a top-tier quarterback, it would be going down as one of the best classes in a long time.”

 

16

Cautionary tale No. 1,345 about reaching for a quarterback: With the No. 16 pick the Bills drafted E.J. Manuel, whom some teams had rated as a third- or fourth-round talent. He’s started a total of 17 games for Buffalo, winning six. ..At pick No. 73, N.C. State’s Mike Glennon was just the third quarterback taken, so most teams recognized the dearth of talent that year. Except for the Bills, who, as another team executive put it, exercised “wishful thinking—you can’t draft a quarterback [just] because you need a quarterback.”

 

17

In this spot, the Steelers selected Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker from Georgia. He recorded just six sacks in four seasons and is no longer in Pittsburgh. In the second round, the Steelers chose Le’Veon Bell, who became an All-Pro and is one of the top running backs in the NFL. They weren’t the only team that had more success later in the draft.

 

18

Let’s put those two Pro Bowl nods for the top half of the first round in some context: In their first four years in the league, the top 16 picks in the 2012 draft had been to 11 Pro Bowls; the top half of the 2011 class had been to 28; even the top half of the 2009 class, also marked as a down year, had been to four Pro Bowls. The top half of the 2014 class, which has only been in the league for three years, has already received 17 Pro Bowl bids.

 

19

The 2013 talent lull had a lot to do with the previous draft. Eleven of the top 16 picks in 2012 were underclassmen—and they included franchise cornerstones such as Andrew Luck (Colts), Luke Kuechly (Panthers) and Fletcher Cox (Eagles). Only four of the top 16 picks in 2013 were underclassmen: Joeckel, Mingo, Milliner and Richardson. Only one, Richardson, is still with the team that drafted him.

 

20

Said Mike Mayock before the 2013 draft, “If you’re drafting 20 to 30, it’s not a whole lot different than the fifth or sixth pick.” Indeed, the 20th pick was Kyle Long, one of the best in the class.

 

21

The weirdness of this draft, continued: The first Pro Bowler at an offensive skill position was selected two-thirds of the way through the first round. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert was taken by the Bengals at No. 21.

 

22

Earlier this month, Desmond Trufant signed a five-year, $68.75 million contract extension with the Falcons, who took the cornerback with the No. 22 pick in 2013. He’s just the sixth player in the first round to have so far signed a second contract with the team that drafted him (Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Tavon Austin, Kyle Long and Travis Frederick are the others).

 

23

The Vikings picked twice in the 2012 first round and three times in the 2013 first round. Their two 2012 first-rounders (tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith) together started more games in their first four seasons than all three of their 2013 first-rounders (Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson) combined.

 

24

Three first-rounders are already out of football: Milliner (Jets); defensive end Bjorn Werner, picked No. 24 by the Colts; and safety Matt Elam, picked No. 32 by Baltimore.

 

25

The Seahawks didn’t have a first-round selection; they traded the 25th pick to the Vikings as part of a package for wideout/returner Percy Harvin, who has since retired. All but one of Seattle’s 11 draft picks that year are gone from the team—tight end Luke Willson remains—but Seattle seems to be taking a stab at its own redraft.

 

26

John Middlekauff, the Eagles’ West Coast scout from 2012 to ’13, recalls going through UCLA and liking defensive tackle Datone Jones . . . as a mid-round talent. … The Packers drafted him at No. 26; they declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

 

27

The weirdness of this draft, continued: DeAndre Hopkins was just the third offensive skill position player drafted in the first round, six picks from the end. He didn’t have head-turning size or speed, but teams perhaps undervalued the fact that had the skill set to be a Day 1 starter at a position where rookies often struggle.

 

28

John Elway, two weeks before the 2013 draft, told the Denver Post: “We feel like we can get as good a player at No. 28 as we could at 10. It’s not like last year with Luck and RGIII. The year before with Von [Miller] and [Marcell Dareus] and A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson—loaded top end. This is probably a deeper draft, but not nearly as many top impact guys.” The Broncos chose defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, a solid but not spectacular three-year starter who is now with the Titans. But Elway’s instinct was correct: The bottom 16 picks have earned 13 Pro Bowl nods, compared to two in the top half of the first round.

 

29

Vikings GM Rick Spielman was in the middle of a press conference about their first two first-round picks when team staff rushed in and yanked him out of the room. The Patriots were calling because they wanted out of the first round. They sent their 29th pick to the Vikings, who selected receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson. In exchange, the Patriots received draft picks that they used later in the same draft on Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Josh Boyce. Patterson never emerged as a No. 1 receiver; the Vikings declined his option and he signed with the Raiders in March. Advantage: New England.

 

30

From top to bottom, the 2013 first round combined for fewer games played and fewer starts in their first four seasons than any other first round from 2009 to 2013.

 

31

The immediate reaction to the Cowboys’ selecting Travis Frederick at No. 31 was, at best, underwhelming. A Dallas Morning News headline the night of the first round read, “Cowboys’ execs appear glum after trade down in first round.” The collective reaction on the team’s live feed of the draft room was compared to the year prior, when there was clear jubilation over cornerback Morris Claiborne, who is no longer in Dallas. The MMQB’s Albert Breer, then with NFL Network, quoted an AFC personnel man about the Frederick pick: “Yuck.” Most teams had graded him as a second- or third-rounder. He didn’t overwhelm athletically, but not enough credit was given to the fact that he came from a pro-style offense at Wisconsin and that he had excellent technique. As one college scouting director says in retrospect, “The ceiling is important, but more important is: Where is his floor? And Frederick had a high floor.” Four years later he’s been to three Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 2016; he’s the anchor of an offensive line that eased Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott’s transition to the NFL and powered the Cowboys to the No. 1 seed in the NFC last season. “The Cowboys got beat up for taking Frederick in the first round; people said, Oh, they reached on him,” Mark Dominik says. “Well, it ended up being one of the best picks of the whole draft.”

 

32

The 2013 draft, in summary: Eight of 32 teams (Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami, Oakland, Tennessee) no longer have a single player from their ’13 draft class currently on their roster. In other words, just four years later, one-quarter of the league had a total washout.

 

 

THE DEATH OF AARON HERNANDEZ

His lawyer Javier Baez was quick to see sinister forces at work in the demise of multiple-murderer Aaron Hernandez – but if the UK Daily Mail is to believe there is beyond ample evidence that he took his own life.

 

Three handwritten notes were discovered in the cell were Aaron Hernandez hanged himself, leading investigators to officially declare his death a suicide.

 

The notes were discovered next to a Bible opened to John 3:16, the same verse that Hernandez had written across his forehead in marker.

 

That verse reads: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

 

This comes as DailyMail.com has learned exclusively that Hernandez was planning his suicide for weeks.

 

The former football star even gave away most of his personal belongings to fellow inmates and covered the floor of his cell in soap, according to a well-paced source. If he lost his nerve he wouldn’t be able to save himself as he would slip around and not be able to land firmly on his feet.

 

‘Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Henry N. Nields performed an autopsy on Mr. Hernandez on Wednesday and concluded today that the manner of death was suicide and the cause asphyxia by hanging,’ stated Massachusetts District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. in a statement on Thursday.

 

‘An investigation into the death by the State Police Detectives assigned to the District Attorney’s Office and Department of Correction investigators found cardboard jammed into the door tracks of his single-inmate cell to impede entry into the cell.’

 

The report went on to state: ‘There were no signs of a struggle, and investigators determined that Mr. Hernandez was alone at the time of the hanging.

 

‘Mr. Hernandez was locked in his cell about 8 p.m. and no one entered the cell until a correction officer observed him at 3:03 a.m. and forced his way through the impeded door to render aid.’

 

 

 

 

 

JUSTICE IN NEW ORLEANS

 

Cardell Hayes, by the DB’s judgment a basically good man who snapped, is going to prison for quite a while for shooting to death former Saints star Will Smith.  Not everyone thinks 25 years is enough for this crime.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cardell Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for manslaughter on Thursday in the death of former Saints defensive end Will Smith, and Smith’s widow says that’s not enough.

 

Racquel Smith released a statement criticizing Judge Camille Buras for the sentence, saying Hayes received compassion that he didn’t show to Smith.

 

“My family and I are extremely disappointed with today’s sentencing and the leniency showed by Judge Buras for the defendant,” Racquel Smith said in the statement. “While we know nothing will ever bring Will back, we were hopeful that Judge Buras would have issued a stronger sentence to more justly reflect both the nature of the crimes and the tremendous loss and pain that my family has suffered as a result of Mr. Hayes’ violent actions on the night of April 9, 2016.

 

“This ordeal has been a nightmare for me and my family. There are no winners here today. Today’s sentencing does not bring back Will and leaves another child [Hayes’ son] to grow up without a father. I pray for the other families of New Orleans that are dealing with the same tragedy that comes with the loss of life at the hands of senseless violence. Will loved this city and we must do better together to enact serious change so that Will’s unnecessary murder is not in vain.

 

“My heart is full of gratitude for the entire staff of the New Orleans District’s Attorney’s Office and the members of the Police Department who worked tirelessly on this case. I am particularly grateful to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and his assistant district attorneys Jason Napoli and Laura Rodrigue for their hard work in presenting this case with such precision and passion. Their ability to convey the facts of the case while also caring so deeply about justice for Will and my family is something I will never forget. And to all of those who continued to pray alongside us through this very difficult time, we heard you and we are so appreciative for the continued outpouring of love and support.

 

“I will continue to shine my light for my Superman. Each day, we continue to heal and work through our pain and feelings of enormous loss. Will’s dedication to his family, his love for his community and his desire to live life to the fullest will continue to inspire me, Willie, Lisa, Wynter and everyone else who loved him. We are hopeful that we can finally focus on what brings us joy — remembering Will for the man he was and the life he lived. We will carry our memories of Will with us every day for the rest of our lives.”

 

Buras could have sentenced Smith to anywhere from 20 to 60 years in prison for manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Racquel Smith was also shot in the incident, which started as a confrontation between Hayes and Smith over a minor traffic accident.

 

 

 

 

2017 DRAFT

If QB DeSHONE KIZER succeeds, “experts” will say he did so because he believed in himself.  If he fails, those same “experts” will say we all knew he was too cocky and delusional.  Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY on this polarizing prospect:

 

No quarterback prospect in next week’s NFL draft has been picked apart quite like Kizer since he declared in the wake of Notre Dame’s 4-8 finish and his own uneven play. Depending whom you ask inside the league, he could be just the fourth or fifth QB taken after North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Cal’s Davis Webb. But if you want to buy Kizer as a worthy first-round pick, this is a good place to start.

 

In the spread offense era of college football, where most coaches keep things simple for players and try to win with pure speed and precision, Kizer had what former Irish offensive coordinator Mike Sanford calls a “really rare” level of control – the ability to not only choose and manipulate protections, but manipulate the calls themselves. Run to run. Run to pass. Pass to run. And not just a “kill” call to a predetermined alternative. The playbook was at Kizer’s disposal.

 

Of course, that can cause problems when you’re running with a bunch of freshman receivers trying to remember hand signals and route depths with the game on the line. (Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly simplified things late in the season for a reason.) But Kizer has left little doubt he has the mental bandwidth required of NFL quarterbacks. And for a stretch during his nearly two seasons as the starter, Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), skills and production in that complicated system suggested he should be a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick.

 

“Name a college quarterback who goes into the game-plan meetings on Monday and throws his notes at the coaches,” Kizer said. “No one else game plans the way I do. No one else prepares the way I do. No one else knows football the way I do. No one else is as big as I am. No one else is as powerful a runner as I am. Pat Mahomes might throw the ball 80 yards and I can only throw the ball 72, but I guarantee he can’t throw an out route the way I can.

 

“No one else can do what I can do. And I’ve truly figured out in this (draft) process, if I can maximize all my potential in every aspect of the game – this is bold – I do have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play. Imagine taking (Tom) Brady’s intellect and Brady’s preparation and putting it on a guy with Cam Newton’s body. Why can’t I be the greatest? The only thing stopping me from it is me. That’s what’s driving me now.”

 

The concerns about Kizer

There are two primary threads of concern among NFL scouts and coaches about Kizer – one he mostly agrees with, and another he strongly rejects.

 

The first is accuracy, which hasn’t been good enough. Kizer completed 62.9% of his passes as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and just 58.7% in 2016, when he and coaches kept trying to adjust his mechanics. He can pull up three examples of the exact same play from the same game on tape and his footwork looks a little different in each of them. Operating mostly from the shotgun, Kizer wasn’t even consistent on which foot was back at the snap, and didn’t know it until he saw the tape. He admits he had other worries as things unraveled – competing with junior Malik Zaire, getting booed going into the tunnel, getting benched.

 

Since December, Kizer has worked with a QB coach, Zac Robinson, on honing his identity as a passer. It was ugly when he tried to show off the adjustments at the scouting combine in early March. (“I started over-exaggerating,” he said.) His pro day was better, though his ball placement still wasn’t perfect. He has continued to concentrate on not over-striding. In private workouts with a half-dozen NFL teams, Kizer said, he’s throwing the best of his life.

 

“I figured out I’m at my best when my left hand’s locked in, my body’s balanced, I’ve got a little knee bend in my front leg as I throw the ball, I take a short step and I rip it,” he said.

 

The second concern is less quantifiable. Going back to the fall, when Kelly didn’t give Kizer all the practice reps or really commit to him until after an October benching against Stanford, the word getting back to NFL scouts is there may be a problem with desire. Is Kizer committed to doing what it takes to be great? Or is he more concerned with living the life and getting the spoils of being good?

 

It’s no accident Kizer avoided marketing deals, stayed off social media and did few interviews like this one over the past four months. He and his agents wanted to make clear he was focused solely on football. But the questions have persisted.

 

Part of the perception, Kizer thinks, stems from one of his regrets last season: he wasn’t visible enough as a leader. He’s naturally introverted in his preparation. Yes, he was often the first one out of the locker room. But he says that was to get away from the high emotions of practice. He’d see his tutor, do his homework and then come back late at night, when he could dim the lights in this QB room, put on country music and let himself become the player he was watching on the screen, alone. He also understands that if young teammates never saw him watching film, it’d be tough to convince them to.

 

“For (anyone) to say I don’t love the game or I don’t have the passion to be great – go spend one day in the Kizer household, I dare you,” Kizer said. “My dad told me when I was 12, quote: ‘I’m not paying for your college. Either you’re going to the military or you’re getting an athletic scholarship.’ And Lord knows I was never killing anyone and I wasn’t getting killed. So sports have always been my life. Winning has always been my life. I’ve never been a loser until this last year.”

 

So how would life be if he’s not great in the NFL?

 

“I’d be miserable,” Kizer said. “I’d be out there grinding my ass off until I was. I don’t know anything other than that.”

 

The answers will keep coming

 

While Kelly raised eyebrows a couple weeks ago by telling SiriusXM NFL Radio that Kizer needs more time to grow on and off field and “should still be in college” – an assertion Kizer doesn’t necessarily disagree with, though he thinks he’ll be ready to play as an NFL rookie – Sanford has been a staunch and vocal supporter of his former QB.

 

“He’s an absolute joy to coach, because he can conceptualize things way faster than most of the quarterbacks I’ve been around, without having to draw it up or put it on film,” said Sanford, now head coach at Western Kentucky.  “How many of these other quarterbacks have completely managed protections with live bullets coming at the largest stadiums in college football? How many of these other quarterbacks have manipulated the run game to make sure you’re not running bad runs into bad looks?

 

“The risk side of it is going to be he hasn’t played more than two years of college football. He is a larger athlete, so there’s always going to be that fine-tuning of the mechanics. But the reward for me is you have a 6-4, 225-plus quarterback that’s going to be able to stand up to the daunting physical aspect at the NFL level.”

– – –

Alabama G REUBEN FOSTER is failing pre-draft 101 – and a drug test.  Ian Rapoport at NFL.com:

 

From the moment the pre-draft process started, it was nothing like Reuben Foster imagined.

 

A much-talked about moment at the Scouting Combine involving a hospital worker, rumors about the progress of his surgically repaired shoulder that won’t die, questions about his childhood friends — it has all gotten to the highly touted Alabama linebacker.

 

“Hectic, stressful, very stressful,” Foster said over the phone to NFL.com, after concluding roughly 20 team visits. “It’s like the devil is coming after me.”

 

And now comes the latest.

 

Last month, Foster was notified that his urine sample obtained in Indianapolis during the combine was reported as dilute. Based on the provisions of the NFL’s policy and program for substances of abuse, “this will be treated like a positive test.”

 

In discussing his trying few months, Foster disclosed the test results to NFL.com because, he says, “This is something that’s going to get out. I don’t make excuses. I’m a real dude. I try to be a good person. … I just hope the coaches understand and that’s all I can hope and pray for.” Foster has already been on the phone talking with teams telling them himself.

 

As for why the test came back dilute, Foster explained in detail. He said he was sick before the combine. He was throwing up, had diarrhea, couldn’t keep anything down and was cramping. One adviser offered to have a doctor put him on IVs to hydrate, but he didn’t want that. He saw a doctor, got some medication and started hydrating himself.

 

Foster believes it was food poisoning.

 

“I couldn’t eat much, but I had to drink water and Gatorade,” said Foster, who began the process as the consensus top linebacker based on his game tape and measurables. “Then a few coaches said something about me being too light. And I’m a coach-pleaser. I don’t care what everybody thinks, but I care what coaches think. So I drank and ate as much as I could without throwing up. Then I went in there, drinking and drinking water, trying to flush out my system from whatever was making me sick and trying to keep my weight up and took the test.”

 

The result was the diluted test, Foster says.

 

And more stress, along with questions about his draft stock. Foster knows this will likely negatively affect where he’s selected.

 

“If it’s first round, second round, whoever takes me will get a good football player and an All-Pro,” Foster said. “I hope I go on Thursday, but I can’t control that.”

 

Foster, who weighed 229 pounds at 6-foot, knows he’ll be in the NFL’s drug program. Periodic and unannounced tests will start when he signs an NFL contract.

 

“Put me in the program,” he said. “Test me.”

 

Of course, this was far from the only thing he dealt with during the process. The star inside linebacker on Alabama’s vaunted defense, Foster had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff after the season. At combine rechecks, doctors found it was on schedule, though there have been media reports that he may need a second surgery (which has frustrated Foster).

 

“I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do, but no matter what I do, it doesn’t come out right,” he said.

 

In Indy, Foster got into a heated altercation with a hospital worker and was sent home prior to completing his medical exam. He later sent a letter to teams apologizing for his dismissal. Foster had been waiting an extended period of time.

 

“I apologized for that, I’ve learned from it,” Foster said. “That’s in the past and it won’t happen again.” Foster spoke right before addressing his former Bama teammates about the pre-draft process and what it’s been like.

 

Some teams also had questions about the company Foster keeps, though as he says, “I came from a rough environment, I’m my own man. Growing up, those were the people from my neighborhood. At college, my teammates became my family.”

 

Foster graduated from Alabama and called the plays for their complex defense. Meanwhile, other media reports questioned his smarts.

 

Foster said this process has been mentally draining and taxing. But he said he’s grateful for it and is looking forward to Thursday.

 

On the flip side, no one has questions about Foster as a football player.

 

“Big-time player,” one GM said. “Beast.”

 

That’s the consensus. But only time will tell how teams will react to the entirety of it.

– – –

Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, Jr. give you some “comps” between upcoming draftees and players you know:

 

Now that we both know the 2017 NFL draft class backward and forward, it’s time to figure out who a few of these prospects compare to. Important caveats:

 

No two players are exactly alike. Often what we’re talking about here are certain traits that are similar between two players.

 

These are prospect-to-prospect comparisons. For example: When we compare John Ross to DeSean Jackson, that means we think Ross is similar to Jackson when he was coming out of Cal.

 

Got it? Let’s dig in, alternating comps and critiques as we go.

 

Kiper: John Ross to DeSean Jackson

Ross sort of looks like DeSean Jackson. They have slight frames that don’t fit with how traditional No. 1 receivers look. But, man, are they blazing fast (4.22 vs. 4.35 in the 40). They’re electrifying big-play threats who could blow by defensive backs and take it to the house at any moment. Ross had a ridiculous 17 touchdown receptions last season. And they’re stellar returners. Ross had four career kickoff return TDs at Washington, and Jackson had six career punt return TDs at Cal. I thought Jackson would be a late first-round pick, but he ended up dropping to the middle of the second round (No. 49). Ross could go anywhere from 20-40.

 

What say you, Todd? No surprise from Mel, going chalk out of the gate. This comp has been out there a bunch — and for good reason. Two important differences: I think Ross is a crisper route runner at this stage than Jackson was coming out of Cal, while D-Jax was much more durable as a collegiate. Ross missed the entire 2015 season due to injury.

 

McShay: Deshaun Watson to Marcus Mariota

Watson is my 28th-ranked player now, while Mariota ranked fifth overall in 2015, so they’re not similar in that sense. While Mariota displayed better accuracy coming out of Oregon than Watson’s tape at Clemson, they both struggled to marry their eyes with their feet when going through progressions. That’s a product of the schemes they played in, which were very focused on playing as fast as possible. Just as Mariota faced a transition from a spread system, Watson will undergo an adjustment period in the NFL. From a leadership standpoint, neither Watson nor Mariota are super vocal behind the scenes, but they both are so well respected by their teammates. They’ve earned it through their humility, consistency and delivering when matters.

 

What say you, Mel? This is a stretch, Todd, for the reason you mentioned at the beginning. Mariota was a much better prospect in 2015. Watson’s completion percentage went up a couple of points by having Mike Williams catch the throws that were in his top wideout’s vicinity. Mariota is on a different level than Watson, who should go in the second round but probably won’t.

 

Kiper: Mike Williams to Alshon Jeffery

There was some question about Williams’ ability to separate from defenders, but the 4.50 40 he ran at his pro day quieted doubters. Still, 40 times at pro days are almost always better than combine times, and Williams didn’t work out at the combine. But his size and speed and ball skills remind me of Jeffery, who has always had a high ceiling, even if he didn’t have great quarterback play at South Carolina. Jeffery dropped to the second round because of a down senior season, and six receivers were taken ahead of him. But he has had a better career, by far, than any of them. Just take a look. As I mentioned above, Williams made Watson better in 2016. There’s no question.

 

What say you, Todd? One of the main similarities to me is how raw they both were as route-runners coming out of school. Jeffery ran a limited route tree at South Carolina — mostly go routes and slants — and Williams was much of the same. He’ll have to diversify his route tree in the pros.

 

McShay: O.J. Howard to Greg Olsen

Howard and Olsen almost have identical height/weight/speed metrics. The Alabama TE ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at 6-5¾ and 251 pounds. Olsen also posted a 4.51 40, while measuring 6-6, 254. But it’s more than just the measurables that make these two similar. Olsen showed good development as a blocker during his college career. Howard added 20 pounds of strength at Alabama and improved immensely in this area, too. And as pass-catchers, they’re both big plays waiting to happen down the seam. Howard and Olsen are rare breeds these days: You don’t see many tight ends who are assets as blockers and field-stretching receivers.

 

What say you, Mel? This is an interesting one. I think Olsen is what teams hope Howard turns out to be, though the former Crimson Tide star has a higher ceiling. Coming out of college, though, Howard is a much better blocker than Olsen was, and Olsen was a more advanced receiver than Howard is at this point. Again, though, Howard has all the tools to be one of the best all-around tight ends in the league.

 

There are some other comparisons here.